From Iceland — Midnight Gallery

Midnight Gallery

Published October 15, 2011

Midnight Gallery

One of the most difficult things to do as a writer is to speak critically, if not negatively, about genuinely good artists, particularly if they exude humility and genuine dedication to their craft. I spoke with every band at Reykjavik Art Museum, and this warning is for them.

De Staat

If I’m not mistaken, Rocky Balboa was usually an underdog, weighing in as a foreign opening act confers underdog status to De Staat: a riotous musical five piece that got asses shaking early on with their tasteful QOTSA-inspired (but thankfully not emulating) ass-kicking and crowd pleasing rock from Holland. They had me dancing, shouting and stargazing, because with the right machinery behind them, they seem like they could be huge. De Staat’s singer is charismatic, revving up the crowd, making resounding proclaimations such as “Yes, you can dance.” Foot stompin’ rockers like Serial Killer rocked hard, with amazing dynamics, drum fills, clapping and blues passages adding to fun. Their stop/start style, vocal doubling and lack of showboat-y rock pretensions really made the band gleam. They spared us from gratuitous soloing and focused on their thumping, bumping sound involving electronic blips and bleeps, sliding guitar and a style that occasionally reminded me of post-punk acts from the early ’80s.  Quite obviously, they were really into the event, dancing along and laughing, despite playing to an audience that was only just arriving. Just the same, these guys pulled no punches. Their single, Sweatshop, is a rump shaker if I have ever heard one. A few frustrations about it, though – the English grammar of the song, which seems unnaturally urban, and a few guitar passages before the first kick of the drums that are slightly unpleasant. It is also a shame they did not have the female vocalist featured on the track around to lend to duties.

Aside from those details, in general, they offered a shotgun blast of excitement to us all.

For A Minor Reflection

Borrowing heavily from bands like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky, For A Minor Reflection were an act with merits that I have to qualify to appreciate. With screensaveresque visualisations behind them and a mountain of effects to their sound, they looked and sounded like a genuine post-rock band. Their fans were entranced: drumming along to each song and head-banging away, but their sound was too predictable and too typical of the post-rock genre for my taste. What is post-rock, anyway? Wasn’t it supposed to arrive somewhere? Apparently, it means using alternative tunings, predictable motifs, chord changes and picking techniques, delay, reverb, feedback, and loud-quiet-loud dynamics in a way that conveys a sentimental mood. Every band does it, but I just think that after over a decade of existence, it’s a sound growing too tiresome to my ears to call it new. That doesn’t mean they didn’t sound great or lacked cohesion. They sure as hell did, and from what I heard, they’ve worked hard to do so.

With time signature changes, a punkish element to their sound, great tension building, technical precision and energy, they definitely gave a tired, dying genre of music a breath of fresh air.

Final say: For A Minor Reflection are cohesive, tight as a rivet, and talented, just a bit too predictably post-rock They need to push boundaries to get my attention, otherwise I’ll tune out at the first sign of sameness.

Agent Fresco

Technically proficient, charismatic, but not very much my cup of tea. Sonically, the rhythm section and guitarist reminded me of the best aspects of the Dillinger Escape Plan with polyrhythmic changes and abrasive, tough sounds, the singer reminded me of Jamiroquai or Brandon Boyd of Incubus, and the strings were tasteful, but together I felt that the elements were incompatible. I felt I had to choose between three rivaling factions that all demanded impossibly huge amounts of attention from me at the same time. The orchestral musicians they played with were barely audible, and often seemed oblivious to what was going on in front of them when they weren’t playing along. In fact, independently, all three parts, singer, band and orchestral elements were great, but together it just seemed awkward.

The crowd knew all of the lyrics, which was nice, and songs clearly were intended to have an emotional, anthem quality, but I didn’t find it to be my kind of thing.

Professional qualities aside, Fresco are honest, kind people who are very grateful for their fans. You could hear it in their stage banter. It appears that they worked hard for them. They were decent people, through and through. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. They have tapped into a great market niche, but it’s not one that I could place myself in.


Dungen are probably a great band, but I couldn’t tell you for sure, as I couldn’t make out a damn thing they were playing. Did somebody kill the sound engineer while they were working, leaving them for dead sprawled across the mixing board? Were the monitors simply off?  In any case, the problem ruined Dungen’s sound.

From what I could hear, which wasn’t much, there were some nice guitar and piano atmospherics, but it was nebulous at best. I could only hear the vocals and drums well. I maneuvered to see if it was a case of bad hearing on the part of the reviewer. I tried panning left, and I tried panning right. No dice. Horrendous noise all the way around.The crowd noticed it, too. Because of the ongoing cacophony, there was only a smattering of applause after each song. Because the crowd’s patience for unsolved problems was razor thin, the crowd eventually grew smaller and smaller. Everything they played was swallowed into a black hole: flutes, tambourines, keys, solos, all of it. Rubbish, pisstake, terrible. Poor Dungen.

No band deserves a thrashing if it’s unwarranted.I asked the band about it, and they seemed oblivious to it. The show became a farce, the Emperor fiddled while Rome burned.

To make matters worse, and please believe me when I say this probably would have been the only genuine criticism of the band I would have otherwise had, it didn’t help that the band had a very timid stage presence. They offered little, if any movement occurred at all, really. Their set meandered until the end, when it all came to an ambiguous conclusion, with the band loving their performance and the audience fucking bewildered. It was a laughably big mistake, an enormous farce, so much so that I left for coffee at the end of the set. I can’t even give them credit for being anticlimactic, which sucks for me, too. I would have really liked to have heard them.  Don’t hate me guys, you probably rock.


After the Titanic/Hindenburgic disaster of Dungen’s set, the Saviour of Saviours arrived, unscathed by the sunken/cindered wreckage. HAM was, if anything, one of the finest rock bands to listen to and experience. Like magic, gone were the audio problems, and these seasoned heroes of Icelandic rock took stage like they owned the place. No bullshit, just raw talent and clear professionalism. It sounded like they had no one to impress, and acted that way. Every song was forceful, brutal and punishing. I ground my teeth with rage, pounded my fists and hollered bloody murder with them. Everything worked, and worked well: sounds, images, attitude. Stage banter was refreshingly minimal, and their songs’ immediacy and attack were clear across the enormous room. A storming, charging behemoth HAM were, standing proud and tall like the experienced (not old) statesman of Nordic metal that they are. What a fucking blast. I was completely honoured to see them. What a serious effort. It was music peering into a deep, dark chasm of the soul, an abyss of pain and agony: remorseless, indifferent, and punishing. Every note fractured and crushed. Chords incinerated like napalm, hit after pulsating hit. Fucking legendary, fucking monolithic, a Roman orgy in hell, a perennial blood bath. Caligula would have been pleased.

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